By Christina Johnson |
RED BANK – The longtime family-owned toy store at 62 White St. known as Toymasters came into the world around the same time the Cabbage Patch Kids craze was born.
Over the years, Thomas the Tank Engine wooden cars rolled in, teddy bears faded away, and the Madame Alexander dolls looked on peacefully from their glass cases.
Now, after 33 years, the door is closing. Store owner Denise Zappoli is closing Toymasters to focus on her health. She has put the business up for sale. The store is located in space owned by neighboring Hobbymasters, a landmark in Red Bank since 1974, which will continue to sell trains, drones, science experiments and more for the older set.
“We’ve been a part of the biggest fads and some exciting times,” said Zappoli, 62, of Matawan, who took over the shop fulltime after her husband, Paul, passed away seven years ago. “Ninety-nine percent of our interactions have been really positive.”
Since she made the announcement to close last month, the store has been selling off all inventory at 30-50 percent off. There are plenty of toys left, but some of the typically jam-packed walls are starting to thin out of popular items like Invisible Ink books, Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles and wooden kazoos.
Customers rushing in for quick gifts at lunchtime Tuesday said they would feel the loss, especially with the holidays approaching.
“I’m very sorry. It will be very sad. There is everything here,” said longtime customer Emily Hovnanian of Rumson, as she paid for a boxed kit.
Patti Baxter of Little Silver looked into the doll case, and recalled how she has selected several dolls for her three granddaughters over the years. She said she would probably have to go online now for special gifts like these. “It’s sad to see the downtown lose a merchant,” she said.
Since the beginning, Toymasters wanted to be the kind of store that avoided “five-minute toys,” that kids opened and tossed away, said Zappoli. On annual pilgrimages to the New York Toy Fair, Paul and Denise Zappoli hunted for intriguing educational and fun products from small companies.
Paul’s sister, Rosanne, remembered the enthusiasm he brought to the store. How he could hardly stay behind the counter when customers came in, and would head down the aisles to suggest personalized ideas. “He was a big kid,” she said. He loved to tinker, would repair toys that were worth fixing.
And while she won’t miss the physically exhausting holiday season nor the frustrations of Red Bank’s metered parking situation, Zappoli says she will surely miss what she calls her “lovely customers.”
Because she runs the kind of business that helps customers pick out gifts and wraps purchases, she’s come to know her clients’ names, and learn about their children’s happy celebrations. She’s helped Geraldo, Maury, Bruce and the Bon Jovis, as well as thousands of others, pick out presents for their kids.
“I didn’t think I understood until the last month when I overheard a father say to his young son, ‘This is where I got my first yo-yo.’ That’s when it hit me,” she said with sadness.
“I hope someone comes forward to continue this toy store, this family tradition,” she said.
This article was first published in the Nov. 9-16, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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